Or how I learned to stop worrying and ignore the mob.
One particular week at Planned Parenthood’s front door, where I volunteer as a clinic escort once a month, we got the standard rosary procession, a few guys from Bikers for Life (who were very peaceful but still pro-lifely confrontational) and for the first time, non-still-effed-up-from-last-night locals asking actual questions about PPNYC and our work there.
Two guys passing by, a younger one with 3/4″ plugs and a labret stud and an older guy with a gym bag, came and stood by us for a while, saying “You look outnumbered.”
They asked us what we were doing – I explained we were there to provide a friendly face to the women and men who come to the clinic, while the people across the street were protesting the reproductive health services provided there, and that we are pro-choice (though also very pro-baby under prepared and consensual circumstances).
A conversation about contraceptive responsibility sprung up – and my activist council orientation gave me calm, rational “In a perfect world. . .” statements rather than a burst of outraged feminist assertions. The younger guy even drifted over into a conversation with two of the Bikers for Life, trying to pin one to a confession that he thought all abortion should be illegal.
After maybe 20 minutes, the younger guy went inside for some free condoms and the older guy regrettably switched into the all-too-familiar “So, you married? You have a boyfriend? No? Quit playin’. What time you done here?” mode (I didn’t even need Activist Council training for “No. No. No.” and “Later”). (Seriously? Dude? I’m standing here giving you an in-person demonstration of Assertive Don’t Eff With Me Womanhood and you’re trying to get your game on? Really!?)
What I liked best about that day was the honest, informative, respectful conversations I was able to have with people for whom feminist activism is not a daily concern, but who were interested in listening and maybe even getting involved. No drive-by cyclist shouts of “murderer,” only one strange request for a spare crucifix from a passersby (“Um, I’m not with them – see that biker down the way”), three people seeking directions to the D train, and life-preserving hand warmers.
What gave me pause was how hard it was not to engage with the pleasant Biker for Life guys. Hatred, malice and outright skeeviness I can ignore – after all, I signed an agreement when I became a PPNYC volunteer that I would not engage with protesters on any level. But I am so effing socialized to conform to the male expectation of a positive response that when Biker #1 made some passing remark, or Biker #2 said good morning, there was a moment of confusion where I almost automatically replied.
Oh, it’s because they all expect me to respond. They are Dudes and they spoke to a Lady and Why Shouldn’t She Be Happy To Hear From Us?! It shouldn’t shock me that three guys who take time out of their Saturday morning to hand out literature – written under the assumption that it wouldn’t occur to a pregnant woman that she can go to a doctor or carry a fetus to term – don’t get that I maybe don’t give a crap about their “good morning” because what they are doing is Totally In Opposition to what I am doing.
My philosophy is that if they (the bikers) weren’t standing outside a medical facility harassing people making use of their safe and lawful access to legal procedures and care, I wouldn’t have to be out there. Ergo they’re jerks, even when they’re nice. And they’re not always nice.
I was happy to explain my role as a volunteer and my pro-choice stance to the stranger asking questions, and happy to stop making eye contact and shake him off when he started doing that thing men do that they think is a compliment.
It doesn’t amaze me that any of this occurs – what surprises me is just how many years I went along with Intrusive Dude Behavior before remembering I can refuse to react, refuse to listen, and save my notice for people that respect my choices.
*Are y’all involved with your local activist council? Why not? I guarantee it’s not hard – register online for a spot in their next training series, show up for a few sessions of information, conversation, fellow feminists and free pizza, and then take your seat on the field committee, the escort rotation, whatever suits you best!